Mick Aston

Standard

Mick Aston was prob­ably the best-known archae­olo­gist in the UK. I’d also go so far as to say that he was the most influ­en­tial archae­olo­gist of the last 25 years.

Mick Aston

Mick Aston (centre). Photo by Wessex Archaeology.

The reason is Time Team, an archae­olo­gical series on Channel 4. If Sky at Night is Astronomy then Time Team when Mick Aston was in it was archae­ology. Its suc­cess massively expan­ded the uptake of archae­ology by stu­dents. Mick Aston’s idea was respons­ible sup­port­ing an incal­cul­able num­ber of jobs in uni­ver­sity depart­ments. It’s easy to over­look was an aston­ish­ing idea Time Team was.

The tra­di­tional doc­u­ment­ary places the aca­demic speaker at the author­ity speak­ing Truth. A recent example is Rise of the Continents, where Mantle Plumes are presen­ted as unques­tioned fact as noted in the post at The Theatre of Reason. A com­mon grumble is that sci­ence is a pro­cess not a body of fact, so how do you show pro­cess? Mick Aston reckoned you could pro­duce a usable brief eval­u­ation of an archae­olo­gical site in three days and this became Time Team. A cam­era crew fol­lowed an archae­olo­gical team as they dug for three days.

Below I’ve embed­ded the epis­ode from Blaenavon, which I hope 4oDDocumentaries have made widely access­ible.* You could make a drink­ing game from the num­ber of times someone says they don’t know some­thing. To steal a line from Paul Bahn: it’s not about find­ing things, it’s about find­ing things out.

As a meas­ure of impact, I offer another series, Bonekickers. Bonekickers was an attempt by the Life on Mars team to pro­duce a drama around an archae­ology unit. It was laughed out of the sched­ules because Time Team had demon­strated to a large chunk of the UK pop­u­la­tion how archae­ology worked. To be fair Bonekickers was pretty awful in its own right, but it’s thanks to the impact of Time Team that it became truly ris­ible. Can you ima­gine that hap­pen­ing with any other aca­demic discipline?

Mick Aston’s influ­ence meant that he became a ste­reo­type of an archae­olo­gist in his own time. That could sound snide, but rather it’s a meas­ure of how loved by the pub­lic he was.

He also had the poten­tial to keep innov­at­ing. After leav­ing Time Team, he’d been work­ing with Timothy Taylor on Dig Village. In some ways he was in the twi­light of his career, but he still could have shone for many years like the even­ing star.

Photo Time Team in Salisbury by Wessex Archaeology. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa licence.

*I’m not optim­istic that it’s vis­ible bey­ond the UK. You can search for Time Team on YouTube, but embed­ding those videos isn’t sens­ible. Uploading a pro­gramme whole­sale, breach­ing the copy­right isn’t neg­ated by say­ing “No infringe­ment of copy­right is inten­ded”. These videos will be com­ing down sooner or later. My per­sonal favour­ite epis­ode is prob­ably Llygadwy / Celtic Spring, but that’s not so typ­ical of the series.

Want a happy holiday? Pray for an Arctic blast Telegraph tells numerate readers.

Standard

Dr Arnall’s hap­pi­ness for­mula is: O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He. Put more simply, a numer­ical value for being out­doors (O) was added to nature (N) mul­ti­plied by social inter­ac­tion (S), added to child­hood sum­mer memor­ies and pos­it­ive thoughts (Cpm) divided by tem­per­at­ure (T), and added to hol­i­day excite­ment (He).

So explains the Daily Telegraph. When divid­ing a smal­ler denom­in­ator gives a big­ger num­ber. 1/10 is a big­ger num­ber than 1/100 des­pite 100 being big­ger than 10. When T approaches zero Cpm/T approaches infin­ity. Dr Arnall is we will be hap­pi­est when T = 0. That’s a sum­mer where the tem­per­at­ure hits freez­ing point if you’re meas­ur­ing in Centigrade,* when you’ll be infin­itely happy. If you’re meas­ur­ing in Fahrenheit you’ll be euphoric when the tem­per­at­ure reaches the equi­val­ent of –18ºC.

What’s pain­ful to read is that he doesn’t seem to under­stand his own for­mula. He’s quoted as say­ing: “June has also seen some warm weather after the cold spring, with people hop­ing more warm spells are ahead,” without warn­ing that in his fantasy this warm weather would be less pleas­ing than cold and drizzle.

*Anders Celsius ori­gin­ally set his scale the other way round, so that boil­ing point was 0º and water froze at 100º. Despite this, I strongly doubt Dr Arnall would he happy if someone tripped and spilled the con­tents of a boil­ing kettle over him.

Where can you find out more about the UNESCO Astronomy World Heritage Inititative?

Standard

For any­one search­ing for my name today, here’s the inform­a­tion you’re after.

The bit I’m work­ing with is the Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy. This is the part where all the pub­lic inform­a­tion is.

There are pages about the ini­ti­at­ive at UNESCO and the IAU.

It’s excel­lent report­ing by Andy Carling, so if I’ve said any­thing incor­rect or muddled then it’s def­in­itely me who got it wrong, not some com­mu­nic­a­tion mix-up.

For once an anti-GM campaigner might cheer a Monsanto win

Standard
I’ve blogged about my con­fu­sion over the Bowman vs. Monsanto case at AoB Blog. There’s a whole argu­ment over GMOs are bad or not, or if that’s even the right ques­tion. But if they are, does that mean the anti-GM pos­i­tion is always anti-Monsanto?

On this occa­sion I argue a Monsanto win would do more to reduce the uptake of GMOs than a loss. It’s per­fectly pos­sible I’ve made a mis­take. The cam­paign­ers are pre­sum­ably much more know­ledgable about the situ­ation than I am, so feel free to leave a com­ment at AoB Blog.

Embedded Link

My enemy’s enemy…?
Recently a lot of com­ments on the Bowman vs. Monsanto court case have been in my social media streams. If you’ve not heard about this, it’s about a court case between a farmer and the Monsanto corp.…..

A new dark sky reserve

Standard
There’s another dark sky reserve in the UK. The prac­tical effect is that the coun­cil will be tak­ing light pol­lu­tion ser­i­ously in order to keep the status. If you’d like to see what a dark sky looks like AstroCamp is there in May: http://​astrocamp​.org​.uk/

I’m pleased about this news as I’m hop­ing that it’ll mean the local council’s open to redu­cing light pol­lu­tion else­where in Powys. I live in a more sparsely pop­u­lated region to the north of the Brecon.

Brecon Beacons win dark sky status
Brecon Beacons National Park has become Wales’ first and only the fifth des­tin­a­tion in the world to be gran­ted the status of an inter­na­tional dark sky reserve.

Collaborating with Aliens

UFO behind Delphi
Standard
UFO behind Delphi

The Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Nothing to see here.

I’ve been kick­ing around an idea for a paper for a couple of years. Every so often Stephen Hawking will announce that con­tact with an extra-terrestrial civil­isa­tion would be a Very Bad Thing. Therefore silence, or as close to it as pos­sible is a good idea. It’s not just Stephen Hawking, many other people agree. Hawking makes the point that con­tact from Europe to other regions hasn’t gone well for the nat­ives since 1492. I think this is a bet­ter argu­ment than “Aliens are scary”, but I think he’s using the wrong ana­logy. There is room for a paper that takes another view. There’s a couple of reas­ons I haven’t pushed on with it.

The main reason is that I’ve not been clear about where the paper could be pub­lished. Ok, Hawking hasn’t pub­lished his belief as a paper either, but he’s a fam­ous phys­i­cist. Famous phys­i­cists are pre­sumed not only to be experts on Physics, but all sci­ences, pseudos­ciences, etc. I can’t claim this expert­ise. If I’m going to say any­thing mean­ing­ful I should at least have it scru­tin­ised. This is the second prob­lem. It would be weird if my pos­i­tion were unequi­voc­ally cor­rect, par­tic­u­larly as we have no data at all on extra-terrestrial con­tact — unless you con­sider the Mars nano-bacteria that were announced and then dis­missed as a trial run. I could rely on review­ers to pick up obvi­ous errors or blind spots, but there’s surely a bet­ter way to fix prob­lems before sub­mit­ting to a journal with some collaboration.

I am part of a group of people who were apply­ing to have a blog hos­ted some­where. I think that’s very likely to not hap­pen. I’ve been quiet here, partly because of a broken arm and partly with a pile up of work that I need to sort through because it’s been delayed by my arm. It’s a shame because the site has a big audi­ence, but maybe not too big a shame as this site has a qual­ity audi­ence. What I’m inter­ested in now is if a col­lab­or­at­ive or even massively col­lab­or­at­ive paper could be writ­ten and how could it work.

Before even dis­cuss­ing tools there’s an issue over dir­ec­tion. As I said at the start, I think Stephen Hawking is wrong. You might think he’s right. He may even be right even if the method he got there was wrong. One of the inspir­a­tions for this approach is Timothy Gowers’ col­lab­or­at­ive approach to solv­ing math­em­at­ical prob­lems. He pulled together a group of people to tackle a prob­lem for a couple of years that he alone could not solve. The prob­lem was solved in seven weeks by a method that came as a sur­prise to him. I can see how that can demon­strably work. In the case of this paper, the sample is zero, and the res­ult is (expec­ted to be) a counter-opinion. Without a real­ity check is it pos­sible to write such a paper with open collaboration?

Alan Cann has used another method. He put up a paper for open peer review. I think it was a clever idea and I could do the same. My worry here is that some of the ana­lo­gies will be out­side my period and I think there could be very good and insight­ful com­ments from people who say, “No, you’ve got this wrong. You should be look­ing at…” In my opin­ion this makes the paper bet­ter and it’s worth author credit. If you give the per­son credit then to an extent you tor­pedo the claim that the paper is pre-reviewed because to some extent it’s self-reviewed.

I’m try­ing to think of a work­able solu­tion, and you’re wel­come to tell me I’m wrong about this too.

I think I should put up the first draft of the paper, prob­ably on Google Docs. I prefer DokuWiki, but leav­ing it open for com­ments and edit­ing could leave it wrecked. For the people who leave sub­stan­tial com­ments which can be pos­it­ive or neg­at­ive, but also indic­ate a dir­ec­tion to go for­ward with the paper, I offer co-authorship. I close the paper from pub­lic view and we write and re-write until it’s ready to go to a journal that’s either OA or happy to have an arXiv pre-print up. The gamble here is that enough people will see the call to review the first draft that it gen­er­ates a sens­ible amount of feed­back to improve it.

Ideally, I’d like to have a sys­tem that can re-used so that I can use it for gen­eral his­tory or archae­ology papers as well as odd ones like this. The reason for choos­ing this topic as the test sub­ject is that it’s doesn’t mat­ter that much to me if it gets massively delayed and it will very neatly high­light some areas where I am emphat­ic­ally not an expert and that col­lab­or­a­tion could be useful.